My first pastorate, on a back road through the tobacco fields of Kentucky, had a church building with room for about 12 pews, four Sunday School classrooms, and an old graveyard beside the church.
It also had a well-worn path to the “bathroom,” which was outside because we had no running water inside. The biggest day we ever had in Sunday School was 50 people. It was a record-breaking high attendance. I was the pastor for only a year, but that year we baptized 25 people—even though we normally had an attendance of 35-40. We managed to baptize the equivalent of over 60 percent of our normal attendance for multiple reasons. No matter how much larger the churches I’ve pastored since then might have been, those reproducible principles I practiced in that little Kentucky congregation still help us reach people for Christ. I want to discuss one of those principles here.
The Passion Principle
As a student, I was the grader for an evangelism professor at Southwestern Seminary. On nearly every test this question appeared: “What are the two indispensable ingredients for church growth?” The answer was: “The pastor must want to grow and the people must want to grow.” No church is evangelistic by accident—you have to want it. You might say, “But we all want to see people saved.” It is true most believers would say they want to see more lost friends and family members come to Christ. Wanting it to happen, and wanting it badly enough to do something about it, however, are two different levels of passion.
One way of moving spiritual passion to strategic practice is by identifying your desired outcome. In other words, set some evangelistic goals for your church. In a 2017 article on evangelism, Thom Rainer cited numerous reasons why setting evangelistic goals for the church usually increases evangelistic effectiveness. According to Rainer, research has shown that churches, even those with little to no history of evangelistic passion, can see dramatic results when they start setting goals for evangelism and then acting on those goals. I have found that to be true.
Some may argue that goal setting reduces the transformation of souls to a “numbers game” or a secular endeavor. Of course, it’s true that any well-intentioned focus can be tainted by selfish motives, but even the Great Commission itself is a God-sized goal-setting strategy for evangelism. Jesus challenged 11 outnumbered, over-awed disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). World evangelization is a pretty big goal, wouldn’t you agree? If you want to reach more people for Christ, you must want it badly enough to identify some goals and do something about them.
For years I’ve heard that John Knox—the leader of the 16th-century Scottish reformation—once prayed, “Lord, give me Scotland, or I die!” That kind of passion for evangelistic effectiveness isn’t secular or selfish. It grows out of a passion to see more people saved. It has its roots in a statement by the apostle Paul who passionately declared, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3). Paul had such an ardor for the lost he would have been willing to go to hell if it meant more lost people being saved and going to heaven! Passion for evangelism motivated Paul to preach throughout the Roman empire, often experiencing prison time, riots, illness, injury, and eventually execution. Passion makes the difference between saying we want an evangelistic outcome and doing whatever it takes to lead others to Christ.
Do you want to see more people saved? Do you want your church to be more effective in evangelism? How badly do you want it? There are numerous other factors for increasing evangelistic effectiveness other than the passionate desire to see it happen, but without passion it’s unlikely we will ever make the effort to do the others. You have to want it.
Passion for reaching the lost should also eclipse everything else on our agenda. As Charles Spurgeon once said that “our grand object is not the revision of opinions, but the regeneration of natures. We would bring men to Christ, and not to our own peculiar views of Christianity.” In other words, our passion for the salvation of the lost is more important than other less significant distractions and arguments which devour our time and energy. In light of eternity, what is more valuable than a human soul?
Do you have a passion for reaching the lost? If you do, your passion is an indispensable factor in leading your church to reach more people for Christ, and lighting a fire of desire in the hearts of the people of God.